Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

30 November, 2009

Backroads: Stoner Road

This fieldwork began strangely like they would in Hawai`i back in the day: cruising into the boonies, and suddenly hanging a left onto Stoner Road. There is no sign, people like to pretend it doesn't run by their house, but Stoner Road has a place on the Washington map, somewhere between 46.76667 degrees north and the Know No Trail, just as prophecy foretold.

Some people say that leaving the straight and narrow and venturing into woods populated with stoners is dangerous, especially alone, but I wasn't worried. Mostly because I was ignorant and foolish back then, more than a week ago. I'd followed stoner trails before, stepped around their seedy spoor, even found some of their fiendish shrines, but I'd never really felt hunted by them before, never felt the hair rise up on the back of my neck on hearing a twig snap behind me.

I followed the trail as far as I could, which is to say until it started getting too steep and eroded for archaeology or a glimpse of stoners in the wild, and so I doubled back to abandon trail-walking and bush-whack upstream. It meandered through a nice little floodplain with another bench a couple of meters higher. Dead trees, or what the specialists call "large woody debris" shared spillway and retention duties with a few iterations of beaver dams. Every once in a while there would rise the rigid skeleton of a large cedar, phallic from afar, but upon closer inspection bearing the femiform lips of old bark stripping scars, the hollow womb of a mothering tree (condo for many a critter), the scratches of bears and cougars come to seek solace.

And then, in my far periphery, I thought I saw the blond dreadlocked coat of a stoner. Turning suddenly, I was face to face with not one but two juvenile specimens. The male appeared to be sub-adult at least, maybe fully mature, but it is always hard to tell with them. After a brief lag, the female slowly turned toward me and stared, and the male followed suit.

"It's a dude, dude," she whispered, causing his eyes (already pointed at me) to slowly focus and register--through a cloud of exhalation--my presence. I knew what would happen now. When their normal routine of clever subterfuge and camoflage (hunching over when lighting up cheap cigars stuffed with weed) fails, stoners take one of two evasive actions: one is to get the pursuer stoned and slip away during his inevitable lapse in attention, and the other is being able to randomly recall the incantation releasing the power to become very small.

They of course offered their still-smoking joint to me.

"Know no no no, I don't smoke it no more," sang I, and although they were young, they were well lored by theior elders, because they recognized and appreciated my Ringo impression. I think it's fair to say that it blew them away, because it set them to laughing. Chortle turned to chuckle, horse laugh and finally to ringing peals of laughter bounding through the fir, bouncing off the trunks as I laughed with them until, bent double coughing up the remains of a guffaw I saw my feet sunk in the mud and flashed onto the grim reality: they were trapping me in a contact high, probably had been blowing smoke at me with each laugh, which would only make it funnier, therefore making them laugh more smoke my way--a self-triggering feedback cycle, another of those deviously clever tricks of their species.

And so I stopped laughing, intent on regaining my wits. As I straightened, I could see them  running away. Faster and faster, or were they getting smaller and smaller? I'll never be able to say without doubt sticking in his crowbar, but if I had to swear I would say they had remembered how to get small. I thought I saw them, bodies shrunk to the size of marmosets, take one last madcap leap, arcing toward a tree and growing infinitesimal exponentially, disappearing into this mossy microscape.

29 November, 2009


To be a weed: an ambition most rare. A bad joke to most, but a guiding principal to me. I want to grow like a weed, to survive and thrive beyond my native range.

For what is a weed but a success in the wrong place? Globalization, climate change, even good old fashioned cross-pollination, what are these all if not foreminders that the finicky curators of the world will never win? Most of the “pristine” environments of the world are illusions—the Amazon rainforest was once an Indian garden, the Virginia woodlands of 1606 an oft-burnt game park—and all of them will change and morph as new arrivals come. Some of the new arrivals wreak havoc when freed from the strictures of their homes—the frowning disapproval of elders, the clampdown of the predator’s jaw—some species are like those drunken sailors on liberty, running roughshod over locals and dispersing their seed wherever they can. Even in this, though, even in their sneaking or invading, there can be value, as like a virus they test the strength of their hosts, the strongest of which gain immunity, bear stronger offspring, and adjust or outlast the exotic pathogen.

But I am no apologist for the weeds that wipe out the native species, and don’t aspire to that. I seek humbler weedhood: the kind that takes hold in harsh un-vegetated lava flows and sidewalks, that crawled out of a swamp but can make do in a desert, that can be whacked all summer and sprout anew in the spring. Stubborn, ineradicable, persistent, stoic, broken but not bowed: possessed of a continuum of obstinacies despicable and fidelities admirable.

Weeds grow paradoxes. I am the ugly flower nobody suspects of wafting sweet airs, a mysterious and unexpected gift, rewarding most fully only the curious who will take the time to put their nose to the dirt. I am the koa haole, scrawny invader tree whose spindly shade nurses young endemics, whose taproots break eroded hardpan and start soil growing again, feeding it with nitrogen fixing nodules, whose succession eventually runs its course and moves elsewhere.

I am the medicine hidden in the cells, known best to the uneducated peasants.

I am the dandelion in the lawn, relentlessly poisoned or pried up by most, but still offering gifts to any and all who can see them. Yellow cheer to the sad. Fluffy toys to the ticklish and the kids whose breath still blows happy winds. Healthy greens and roots to the hungry. Wine to the parched. Life’s renewed foothold in the paved and smothered land.

Weeds wander, and make homes wherever they can. Quick to recognize the hospitality of the plowman. Wont to spread their seed far and wide. Ready to try new fields. Happy to occupy the fringes and exhausted places spurned by affected cultivars. Able to pull up roots and move in when it is time, or to put them down as opportunities arise. Likely to improvise with roots from stems, sprouts from half-eaten bits and old damaged seed. Always a thumb out to hitch a ride in a boot, a feather, a gust.

Unafraid to land and try growing in someplace new and unexpected. Weeds pioneer where others would hesitate, and are seldom heard to complain when the place they improved gets gentrified, pushing them out again (although they do tend to sneak back in the second you turn your back).

14 November, 2009

Kill the Leaf Blowers!

I have a new all-purpose policy that will benefit the nation's security, environment, public health, and education. It's simple. Get rid of the leaf-blowers.

In the past couple of decades, leaf-blowers have supplanted rakes. Archaeologists hundreds of years from now will attest to this fact, especially since most of the consumer models don't last much longer than a rake, and will be among the diagnostic artifacts of late 20th and early 21st century strata of landfills. The era that the Bush Dynasty would have had historians term the New World Order, but which will more likely be known as the American Twilight.

And if I have anything to do with it, leaf-blowers will cease to appear in the not-distant future, their vile presence will end, and humanity will be the better for it.


A lot of it has to do with reliance on crappy little combustion engines, the kind that are churned out cheaply enough to be commodities, not durable capital. Because it takes a cheap engine to power a tool that must find its way into every house with an SUV as well as every grounds maintenance crew, leaf-blowers are low quality things with no attention to efficient design. They are made by and for corporations who thwart attempts to regulate the emissions, efficiency, noise, or anything beyond shielding the populace from the most negligent and grievous bodily harm. Because in our era the consumption economy rules, leaf-blowers use too much fuel and spew too much noise and exhaust. They degrade the world we live in.

Maybe they are just little things, and I'll grant that the typical user burns only a few gallons of gas a year using them. But there are millions of them, and grounds crews fire them up daily to move grass clippings, leaves, and litter at residences, businesses, office and school campuses, and government facilities. Meanwhile, our government sends men and women (many of whom ran leaf-blowers until they signed up with the military seeking a better life) to die in foreign countries, protecting the crude flow so that Americans will have the freedom to waste. Leaf-blowers, like other conveniences that run on fossil fuel, are a security threat.

And did I mention that the noise and stink are annoying? No, beyond annoying. Indefensible assaults on the environment, or on God's creation if you think of the earth that way.

Besides that, leaf-blowers grease the skids for the American slide down to fat stupidity. The rake is a work-out tool, and when operated by someone with a sense of the world around them--the wind patterns, terrain, vegetation--functions as fast as the blow-hard machine. The leaf-blower disconnects the user from their place, reduces the clean-up process to point and shoot, absent any deft flicks of wrist or awareness of mind. Watch most leaf-blowers in operation, and you see idiots blowing the same leaves over and over, often fighting a wind that funnels through their neighborhood most every day. I've seen people blow and blow at a soggy or twig-entangled leaf for minutes without thinking to let go of the trigger and use their hand for a second. These guys get fatter and stupider as they forget what a rake can do, and I don't think the fumes are helping much.

And it's not just that they play into individual laziness of mind and body. Leaf-blowers give whining, droning voice to sociopathy. People who would never rake a pile of leaves into their neighbor's yard seem to have no compunction  about blowing them just over the property line. This goes double for blowing leaves into streets, and where I live, that means getting rid of leaves into bike lanes, where a mat of slippery leaves is not just an inconvenience, but a hazard. (And a word to you assholes who do this: the cyclists will veer into the road, impeding your SUV.) And of course the noise and stink. The most obnoxious thing a rake can do is scrape on some concrete, but I had to listen to the on-and-off buzz of a neighbor's leaf-blower for hours today. And if his inconsideration doesn't rise to the level of sociopathy in your estimation, how about the assault I would've unleashed had it lasted another hour?

When the blow-hards aren't putting their leaves where they will be someone else's problem, what they usually do is bag them up (often needing a rake in the process) and have them taken away. These folks are not usually the composting type. Members of that vast suburban nation whose reverence of consumerism and spotless lawns led them to buy the blower in the first place tend to put leaves in plastic bags (more petrochemicals), treating this biomass like trash, maybe hauled to a greenwaste facility if their suburb is affluent and educated enough, but still something offensive, needing to be taken out of their site. For some reason, they cannot enjoy the beauty of colorful leaves on a green lawn, and feel compelled to blow away leaves until they can gaze on an expanse of what could be astro-turf. They may be good church-goers, but complain incessantly about god's leaves that fall on god's green earth. These same people will then buy compost, soil amendments, and of course fertilizer (more petrochemicals!), oblivious to the irony their inartful stupidity hath wrought.

So that's why the leaf-blower is a tool whose time has come to disappear. It lessens the ecological and aesthetic value of the place where it is used. It keeps us tethered to a fuel source (and often as not an overseas factory) that undermine our political and economic security. It makes us less healthy, more stupid, and decreasingly connected to our patch of earth and to each other. So pick up a rake (which works just as well, and costs way less), rebuild your muscles, enjoy the smell of leaves and grass, hear the birds sing, and bask in freedom from that stinking, droning blow-hard.

08 November, 2009


Only just now, typing the title, did the Dead Kennedys initial-joke click in my delayed response brain. DK = decay. Jello Biafra, be happy that you continue to provoke and amuse after all these years.

Like the punks and some of their fancy-pants intellectual allies, I embrace decay and believe that any good recipe for creation has to have at least a dash of destruction. But this is not just some intellectual BS (though I have plenty of that), not a philosophical position or a post-modern pose. In the most grounded ways possible, decay is crucial to my life.

Take away decay, and you rob me and every other archaeologist of a livelihood. Banish decomposition from this earth, and the material traces of our past all stand whole and ready for any chump to recognize. Part of the magic I possess that makes me an 'expert' is my eye for the pre-decayed reality of a place. The cabin that once stood where only a few fireplace stones remain today, the sumptuous meal reduced to some greasy cracked rocks buried in the ground, the hubris-wracked republic implied by a desert scattered with scorched human bone and cratered roads. If most of the past does not burn and rot, if parts of it are not swept away by floods and toppled by temblors, then my tribe's feat of reconstructing panoramas from a few random puzzle pieces becomes no more useful or interesting than broccoli in the lion's den.

And as with every other gardener, the pleasures and sustenance that grow from the earth would be denied me were decay to halt forever. The soil shat by microbes, worms and bugs, by rats, cows and compost bins--none of it would exist. And we'd be stuck trying to squeeze blood from stones. Life on earth would have run its course and died off long ago, like Dick Cheney's soul.

And so I embrace decay and adore entropy, those generators of middens and loams.